V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Ed Begley Jr. speaks out

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, April, 2008

Ed Begley Jr. is rhyming off a list of Hollywood celebrities who are making a genuine effort to green their lives.

There's his friend Danny DeVito, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ed Norton and Darryl Hannah, he says in an early morning phone interview from his L.A. home.

Then there's a pause and I hear his wife interjecting, shouting in the background.

"Tom Hanks drives an electric car, my wife says," Begley adds. "I helped get him that car."

Begley laments that a busy schedule has prevented him from pedalling his stationary bike, to charge the batteries in his home, to power his toaster --one of dozens of ways he conserves energy around his modest 1936, two-bedroom home.

More shouting in the background.

"What honey?" he yells.

Rachelle has just gently suggested he get back on the bike and work on the spare tire -- and not the one on the bike.

It's this back and forth repartee between spouses that made his show Living With Ed on HGTV so amusing.

In one episode, Begley stands outside the bathroom with a stopwatch, timing Rachelle's shower, reminding her of the gallons of water she's wasted. In another, Begley hauls out an orange rain barrel into the yard to collect water from the drainpipe, much to the chagrin of the aesthetically sensitive palate of his wife. The barrel is taken in, brought out, and taken in again in a string of comedic moments where spouses try to subvert each other.

Rachelle is a typical California beauty -- blond and svelte -- who must reconcile her appreciation of the finer things in life with her actor-husband's contempt for unnecessary decadence and consumption.

It's a similar parallel between Begley's green belief system and the alternate reality he lives in, the cult of celebrity.

Begley has long been a walking contradiction with his Hollywood roots. The actor, known for his TV roles in St. Elsewhere and Six Feet Under, eschewed the culture of excess, extravagance and wanton consumption long before it became fashionable.

His crusade began in 1970, when he channelled his disgust with L.A. smog into productive, industrious living, buying a $975 electric car, recycling and composting. For years Begley has been arriving at the Oscars riding his bike in his tux while other celebrities alighted from stretch limos. He uses a solar-powered outdoor oven, solar roof panels and gave his wife the white-picket fence she always wanted, built from plastic milk jugs.

While he acknowledges Hollywood represents the polar opposite of his own values, Begley is not a high-road preacher.

"I have plenty of friends who do a great deal, and plenty of friends who are still driving big cars and have large houses. If my friendships with people were based upon their car or energy bill, I wouldn't have as many good friends," he said. "They're my friends and I, you know, encourage them to do what they can when they can but I don't proselytize about this."

Early this month, DiCaprio bought a unit in what has been described as the greenest condo in New York City. Builders will use low-to-no emission paints, adhesives and sealants, install programmable thermostats, an onsite water recycling system for landscape irrigation and use solar panels. About 65 per cent of the Riverhouse is made from eco-friendly materials, while 40 per cent of materials are locally sourced.

"With Leo, it's not just a statement for him, he really does a great deal," Begley said.

Sure, but what about the common folk who aren't gagillionaires and who haven't smooched Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet?

Begley answers with the refrain that's become his media mantra: Pick the low-hanging fruit.

"I did my version of the low-hanging fruit when I was a struggling actor, had no disposable income. I was broke."

Switch to compact fluorescent lights, compost, take public transit, keep up a garden, he suggests.

"Do it the way I did in the 1970s, cheap and easy ... it took me 20 years to save the money from all the other cheap stuff I did to buy solar panels."

Begley will be in Toronto April 26 at the Green Living Show, and has also published a book Living Like Ed. The Green Living Show show also features speakers Bill Clinton and Robert Kennedy Jr.

For more information, visit greenlivingshow.ca (see link).

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Don't Spend it like Beckham

·  In addition to capturing the dubious title of the most environmentally unfriendly couple, with his Spice Girl wife Victoria, U.K.-based Carbon Trust tallied up the numbers and claims pretty boy David Beckham has the largest carbon footprint in human history.

·  The L.A. Galaxy footballer and his gagillionaire cleats produced 163 tonnes of carbon dioxide last year by logging more than 400,000 km in the air -- about the distance from the Earth to the moon -- and driving his fleet of 15 gas guzzlers such as a Hummer and Porsche.

·  The average Brit produces 9.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

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